Summer 2016 UPDATE
An Eclipse Adventure with FOTO
by David Bezayiff, Ph.D.
MANY THANKS to David Bezayiff for writing this article. When over 50 intrepid FOTO travelers embarked on Holland America’s Volendam for 16 days, few of us had any idea of the adventures that awaited. From the otherworldly experience of sharing a perfect total solar eclipse with good friends, to sharing Mr. Toad’s wild bus ride to a Buddhist temple, to raucous sing-alongs at the piano bar, there is nothing like travelling with FOTO. Did I say it was HOT? And HUMID?
Camille Lombardo, FOTO Executive Director
On March 9, 2016, FOTO members were on board the Holland America cruise ship Volendam in the Makassar Strait, 2,000 nautical miles from Singapore, to watch the 2-minute 45-second total solar eclipse. My wife, Ann Marie, and I began this adventure in Houston with a flight to Los Angeles, followed by another flight from Los Angeles to Tokyo and then, finally, to Singapore. Once we arrived in Singapore, we met the other members of the FOTO group. We spent nearly three days in Singapore, touring the city, sampling local cuisine, visiting marketplaces, and admiring the city’s architectural landscape, a blend of the city’s past and modern testaments to its future. One of the highlights was having dinner on the Singapore Flyer, a 55-story Ferris wheel that provided a beautiful panoramic view of the city’s skyline. We concluded our stay in the city with a visit to the Singapore Zoo, where everyone also enjoyed breakfast with the zoo’s orangutans (left photo). Afterward, our next stop was to the cruise center to board the ship.
As a part of the tour package, the ship’s first port of call was Tanjung Priok, Jakarta. Two of the highlights were excursions to the Museum Wayang, home to thousands of ancient puppets (1) that were once used to tell Indonesia’s cultural and religious story; and the National Museum of Indonesia, a place that honors Indonesia’s peoples and their religious, cultural, musical, and artistic histories.
A second excursion stop was in Semarang, Java, where we climbed the Mahayana Buddhist Temple, Borobudur (2). Built between the 8th and 9th centuries, it consists of over two million stones. It is the world’s largest Buddhist collection of relief artwork as well as a World Heritage Site.
After a day at sea, the ship stopped in Probolinggo, Java. The first excursion was a boat ride on the Java Sea in search of whale sharks that frequent its waters, but none were able to be seen. The second excursion was a trip to the active volcano, Mt. Bromo (3), 7,641 feet at its peak. Resting at its base is a Hindu temple (4).
On March 8, the final stop before the eclipse, was the city of Makassar (5), once called Ujang Padang. The city was a good example of the historical interaction of most of Indonesia throughout the centuries of various peoples – Chinese, Muslims, Javanese, Indians, Malays, and later the Portuguese and Dutch.
A worrisome constant during an eclipse is the weather. Everyone hopes for a clear sky, void of clouds. The morning of March 9 was no different. Everyone’s attention was turned skyward. Before the eclipse began, the ship maneuvered into position as great swirls of clouds streamed by. The potential for the eclipse being partially obscured was a reality. Unknown to almost everyone on board, however, the ship’s captain, James Russell-Dunford, had studied the weather patterns during the night and made the decision to move the ship 20 miles away from the initial observation site. His decision demonstrated his skills as a navigator. Fortunately, a few minutes before the eclipse began, the last segment of clouds floated by, leaving behind a beautiful clear sky. Within the hour, totality began and lasted for 2 minutes and 45 seconds. (Photo of totality taken by David Bezayiff on the front cover.)
For those seeing the total solar eclipse for the first time, Virgin Eclipsers, the experience of seeing the first Diamond Ring and the totality was exuberating. Shouts of “wow,” “amazing,” “can’t believe this,” and “spiritual” roared over the decks. Clapping and shouts of excitement from experienced Eclipse Chasers were followed by the customary celebratory glasses of champagne. For everyone, however, being present to witness this celestial event between the Sun and the Moon is a humbling experience.
With the eclipse over, the Volendam’s itinerary included three more ports of call on the return trip to Singapore. The first was Komodo Island. Here, among deer, wild boar, goats, and tropical birds, live the Komodo dragons (6), the world’s largest lizards. Their name is derived from ancient tales, telling of their ability to spit fire. The dragons live on five islands in southeastern Indonesia, and though stories circulated about their existence, Westerners never saw them until 1912. Being able to see them in their natural habitat was another exciting part of the trip.
Following a day at Komodo Island, the ship sailed to Lembar Lombok. Here, local villagers produce pottery which they sell locally and export. The traditional native people, the Sasak, live in traditional houses constructed of bamboo walls, grass roofs, and floors made from a mixture of clay and cow dung. The marketplace plays a central role in the community and provides fresh produce (7) and fish that are sold and traded daily.
The last port of call was Benoa, Bali. Considered one of the gems of Indonesia, the tropical landscape is a canvas of rice paddy fields, banana trees, and lush jungle forests bordered by pristine beaches. Many of the sites visited included temples, and so it was fitting that our last stop included the Hindu Besakih Temple. The temple complex includes 86 additional temples, and for over a thousand years, it has been referred to as Bali’s Mother Temple. It rests on the slopes of Mount Agung.
After two more days of sailing, the ship docked in Singapore on March 16. We had traveled 3,648 nautical miles. The trip proved to be a FOTO adventure – from the cosmopolitan city of Singapore to distant native villages, without running water; from museums to marketplaces; from road trips through populated cities and rural country villages; and from rice paddies to exotic temples of centuries-old faiths. But above all, the most important part of the adventure was to see a total solar eclipse. And see one we did! It was, judging by everyone’s comments, spectacular. Astronomers and poets have written about eclipses, but as for me, every time I experience one, I come away with a singular thought. It stirred my soul.
Executive Director's Report
by Camille Lombardo, FOTO Executive Director
I looked for a unifying theme when I began to write this article. “Moving forward” came to mind. “Change” came to mind. Both seemed trite and simplistic as I struggled to fit the stories of people important to FOTO’s past and future into a box framed by an inspirational quote. This Update tells the stories of what FOTO and Griffith Observatory have been doing. Even more important is to hear about who has and will play a huge part in making the stories for the next issue happen. So, I will focus on some of the key people who play big roles on the FOTO stage but are often behind-the-scenes.
Some of you may be aware of the retirement of Lisa Anderson, and some of you may not. She was FOTO’s Office and Volunteer Manager for eight years. She moved to Oregon at the end of 2015 and now lives near the Rogue River and has endless starry skies for her telescope-viewing passion.
FOTO members loved Lisa. She was dedicated to providing everyone with the “concierge” service that is our signature commitment to FOTO members. She was in charge of identifying and recruiting speakers for our Cosmic Musings lecture series. We routinely have over 100 guests making the drive through traffic on Monday nights to attend, which speaks to the quality of the program. She was in charge of the annual Mt. Wilson 60-inch telescope events, onsite tours, special requests, Board meeting logistics, and many “other tasks to be assigned.” In short, she was an almost irreplaceable FOTO asset…but we found Marc Meehan.
Marc changed from being a Griffith Observatory Museum Guide to joining FOTO in late 2015. In addition to carrying on the standards of excellence set by Lisa, he already has made an impact on FOTO’s social media presence, linking FOTO with Griffith Observatory’s online media while growing FOTO’s own Facebook, Google+, and Twitter followers. He also initiated and negotiated our relationship with Ralphs and Amazon Smile. Now your purchases with these merchants automatically help support FOTO once you have registered online. (See below on how to register or scan the barcode.) And thanks to Marc, coffee and tea are available to all Observatory staff members in the FOTO office.
Please join me in wishing both Lisa and Marc the very best as they move forward on their chosen paths.
There have also been changes on the FOTO Board. Brett Rodda, immediate Past President, surprised us all by leaving Munger, Tolles & Olson to become general counsel at an investment firm on the east coast. Los Angeles’ loss is Connecticut’s gain. David Primes remains Chair of the FOTO Board, Rich Semler moves into the President position, Dr. Eve Haberfield becomes Vice President, Ethan Eller assumes the Treasurer responsibilities, and Patricia Casado remains Secretary.
Terri Bloomgarden, part of the Canter’s Deli family, joins the FOTO Board of Directors, bringing with her an extensive background as a long-time board member of The Jewish Home for the Aging, now LA Jewish Homes, and other charities. Another incredibly talented new Board member is Sandra Kang. Sandra is currently an executive at Creative Artists Agency’s (CAA) Brand Marketing Division. Her enthusiasm for the work Griffith Observatory and FOTO do has generated the contacts that are making possible our July special screening of Star Trek Beyond at the Paramount Pictures Studios.
Please join me in welcoming both Terri and Sandra to the FOTO family. You can read more about them at www.FriendsOfTheObservatory.org.
FOTO people are not the only ones who make excellence happen at Griffith Observatory. Our partners at foundations and corporations who listen to our needs and understand our goals, as you do, are critical to our success. An extremely generous gift from The Ahmanson Foundation funded the purchase of new projection technology, new lighting, and new sound equipment for the Samuel Oschin Planetarium. This technological transformation ensures that the Samuel Oschin Planetarium remains the best venue for astronomical storytelling anywhere on Earth. A generous gift from Burberry capped off a unique evening where stars and fashion met at Griffith Observatory. This gift helps to fund the School Field Trip Program serving 27,000 fifth-graders annually. The Vanguard Society, an exclusive group supporting the creation of the next planetarium show, was launched under the guidance of Bonnie Winings, Director of Development and Communications. These are just three highlights of how important people are to the excellence we have all come to expect.
And still more is in the works. Watch for exciting news about a new, offsite studio for the animation production of the next planetarium show.
WE KNOW WE DON’T MOVE FORWARD WITHOUT ALL OF YOU. MANY THANKS.
New Planetarium Show Gets Support from FOTO’s Vanguard Society
by Bonnie Winings, FOTO Director of Development and Communications
Late in 2015, FOTO hosted a special evening in the Samuel Oschin Planetarium to introduce FOTO members to our new 8K, 60-frame-per-second projection equipment. To put this amazing new projection technology into a context to which we can all relate, 8K is 16 times the resolution of high definition – imagine the visual impact of that.Not only did the event feature the wonder of Centered in the Universe in 8K, it also previewed a few scenes that are currently being animated for our new planetarium show, whose working title is Life in the Universe. Just about everyone in the audience was breathless with what they saw.
Life in the Universe will be the next signature show at Griffith Observatory — one that will be as visually complex and scientifically relevant as Centered in the Universe. The new show incorporates state-of-the-art animation to take full advantage of the 2015-16 technological upgrades to the Samuel Oschin Planetarium, provided by a generous grant from The Ahmanson Foundation. According to Griffith Observatory Director Dr. E.C. Krupp, these technology upgrades are creating “the most complex theater in southern California, with the most advanced all-dome digital animation projection in the country.”
This new show will take a stunning look for the ingredients of life, whether on Earth, on the moons of Saturn, or on an exoplanet of another galaxy. We’ll understand better how elements merged in Earth’s “Goldilocks” zone, and appreciate why life advanced here – and what conditions for life may exist in our solar system or on other planets just being discovered. Full of science, wonder, and awe, Life in the Universe will transport the viewer from inner cellular material to the possibilities existing in the outer universe.
Griffith Observatory’s Curator, Dr. Laura Danly, is providing the guiding hand in shaping the content and visual direction with her team of Observatory staff, and newly-hired animators and consultants. Early in 2017, Griffith Observatory will have a new, “forever” animation production studio offsite in which to create the new planetarium show. In the meantime, the Boeing classroom will be modified as a temporary production facility so that work on the new show may proceed. Watch for more details in upcoming Updates and special emails. And FOTO has committed to providing the funds – through individual, corporate, and foundation support – for this new show to the tune of $1.5 million.
ENTER THE VANGUARD SOCIETY
FOTO developed The Vanguard Society in Fall 2015 as a special leadership community of donors who are focused on the production of Life in the Universe. Currently, this is a small group of visionaries who have stepped forward to contribute to the excellence of Griffith Observatory.
The Vanguard Society will offer special recognition to its members including:
• Up to four preview/rough-cut screenings between 2016 and the premiere of the show with producer Q&A sessions
• An opportunity to see the animation studio and meet the animators
• Invitation to a premiere party to be held prior to the public opening of the show
• Special thanks on a film poster created for the opening
As we continue to fundraise for this stellar production, we welcome your inquiries about The Vanguard Society and would love your suggestions of friends who might be interested in this select membership group. If you’re part of a company – or own a company – with a philanthropic division that supports projects that reach hundreds of thousands of children, youth and families with scientifically accurate information, is a supporter of excellence in our local community, or has an interest in promoting education, I invite you to get in touch with me at BWinings@FOTO.org.
SEE YOU UP ON THE HILL!
In Loving Memory: Dr. Verna Dauterive
It is with great sadness that we mourn the passing on June 1, 2016 of our dear friend, Dr. Verna Dauterive.
Dr. Dauterive was a long-time member of the Friends Of The Observatory Board of Directors. Her remarkable life as an educator and philanthropist touched so many people and had a profound impact on the world in which she lived.
As an educator, Dr. Dauterive often brought her students to Griffith Observatory, and once remarked that “It seemed to bring the world closer to the sky. The Observatory was always dear to my heart.”
In remembering Dr. Dauterive, FOTO Executive Director Camille Lombardo said “She was a force of nature driving a red Mercedes sports car, a generous spirit committed to ensuring a solid education for everyone, and a very, very gracious role model for everyone who wants to leave the world better than he/she found it. All of us who were fortunate enough to have stood in her shadow know how special she truly was.”
by Marc Meehan, FOTO Office and Volunteer Manager
Dark Energy, Zombie Stars, and the Robotic Future of Astronomy
The lecture was a packed house! Our second Cosmic Musings presentation of 2016 had guest speaker DR. ANDY HOWELL of the Las Cumbres Global Telescope Network deliver a compelling lecture, fascinatingly titled, “Dark Energy, Zombie Stars, and the Robotic Future of Astronomy.” The lecture focused on the efforts by Dr. Howell’s team in mapping super-nova in our surrounding universe, using an ever-growing robotic network of land-based global telescopes. This network allows for celestial objects to always be viewable through at least one device, perpetuating what Dr. Howell dubbed, “an endless night.”
Highlights of the evening included questions from the audience at the end of the presentation, many asking if the Global Telescope Network could be used to point in the directions where recent gravitational waves were detected. As one can imagine, the complexity of the answer created a pause in questions until the audience had a chance to absorb Dr. Howell’s response. Essentially, while those locations might be good candidates – after all, the source of the gravitational waves, two black holes finally merging, exhibited energy wave levels equivalent to something like 50 times the luminosity of the entire universe – space is huge and there are a lot of great candidates for the Network.
A Glimpse from the Dome
by Mark Pine, Griffith Observatory Deputy Director
The last year was a busy one for Griffith Observatory, with over 1.3 million visitors!
More than nine million people have visited since the renovated and expanded building reopened nearly 10 years ago. And our attendance has increased every single year.
One key reason for those increases is the innovative, high-quality programs presented in the Samuel Oschin Planetarium and Leonard Nimoy Event Horizon. Another reason is special public events like lunar eclipse star parties (September 2015) and those celebrating space program accomplishments (Pluto flyby in July 2015) and major anniversaries (Hubble 25th in April 2015).
One of the most significant accomplishments for the Observatory in 2015 was literally “under the dome.” With funds from a generous grant secured by FOTO from The Ahmanson Foundation, Observatory Curator Dr. Laura Danly led the most significant initiative since renovation to replace and upgrade both the digital video projection and lighting systems in the Samuel Oschin Planetarium.
When the theater reopened in late September 2015, it once again was the most advanced such environment in the world. Our existing shows were upgraded to take advantage of the enhanced resolution, color saturation, and range of the new projectors; and our future shows will be able to use a broader and deeper visual palette to tell inspiring stories about the sky.
We also get invaluable assistance from FOTO in sharing our events and accomplishments via mainstream and social media. The Observatory profile is higher than ever, and I’m pleased to share a couple of the most notable commentaries.
LA Weekly Highlights All Space Considered:
Our popular monthly astronomy and space presentation got a well-deserved profiling with thoughtful, fun, and informative insights about the program. I think this excerpt best reveals the author’s perspective:
“The Universe: You live in it, so you should probably check in on it now and again. If you’re like me, you rarely give astronomical news or the cosmos at large more than a moment’s thought. Just one hour at All Space Considered will help you feel caught up on what’s out there, or at least reminded that while you sit in traffic, big things are happening in galaxies far, far away. If you’ve had a bad week at work, spending 10 minutes learning about the surface of Mars is a great way to take your mind off your earthly woes. Halfway through each presentation, Dr. Danly inserts a segment called “Pretty Pictures.” It’s exactly what it sounds like — a series of stunning images you likely wouldn’t encounter on your own. The pictures are lovely. And there’s something special about the feeling of a packed room pausing for a moment to ponder the aesthetic beauty of the cosmos.”
Observatory Named as One of “500 Best Places on the Planet”:
Lonely Planet, the influential travel guide publisher, issued a “best of” list of 500 notable places around the globe, and Griffith Observatory was number 466. We were one of just a handful of California locations (mostly natural landmarks). The list received a lot of media attention, including an article in the Los Angeles Times.
One of the most exciting space accomplishments of 2015 was the New Horizons spacecraft flyby of the Pluto-Charon system (shown above). Once the data from that brief encounter started flowing in, planetary scientists were stunned by the surprises and revelations about the dwarf planet and its companions. Observatory staff monitored and shared the developments, especially regarding the appearance of the two worlds. One of our Museum Guides created photo-realistic models of Pluto and Charon, which our Technical staff then anchored to a specially-designed mounting. In March, we replaced the initial Pluto model (from 2006) with the updated Pluto-Charon system model above the Pluto pylon in the Gunther Depths of Space. The new models are accurately scaled for relative size, inclination, and barycenter (the center of gravity around which both Pluto and Charon orbit). Whether a planet or not, Pluto remains at home at Griffith Observatory!
Each day, I recognize the Observatory’s efforts are made better, more impactful, and broader reaching because of the invaluable and ongoing support from Friends Of The Observatory.
MY THANKS TO ALL FRIENDS FOR YOUR INVESTMENT IN PUBLIC ASTRONOMY AND WONDER.
Cosmic Connection Clean Up Corps
by Kara Knack, FOTO Director Emeritus
Makes the Universe Sparkle!
Once a year, FOTO volunteers working as the Cosmic Connection Cleanup Corps supply fresh, worldly sparkle to the Timeline of the Universe exhibit in the Cosmic Connection by meticulously cleaning it.
Volunteers originally installed the popular exhibit piece by piece, 10 years ago in 2006, just days before Griffith Observatory’s reopening following the renovation and expansion. It was a busy 12-hour event, with lots of hands placing jewelry on the framework, creating an undulating cultural depiction of celestial design. Every year since, FOTO volunteers have cleaned each and every piece of the more than 2,300 pieces making up the Timeline.
It’s a labor of love by men and women (and sometimes children) who are pleased to be a part of an exhibit like no other in the world. The parents who have brought their children have used the event to teach astronomy and science in ways that are amazing to me. It seems jewelry can open many doors to the mind. Haze and dust gets deposited on the jewelry’s surfaces during a year, slightly dimming the reflected light, and the annual cleaning returns the pieces to their original splendor.
Many of the volunteers have participated more than once and several FOTO volunteers put their talents to use every year. Fortunately, the cleaning takes a lot less effort than the installation, and with enthusiastic helpers we finish the job in about three hours.
Walking along the Timeline is a good way to see a large variety of celestial jewelry. Members of the Cosmic Connection Cleanup Corps report a sense of wonder and discovery with the privilege of seeing and touching pieces up close and personal, experiencing pieces they might never have noticed in years of looking. Isn’t that the way of everything? When we take a closer look with the intent of bettering our vision, in this case polishing the surfaces, we often see things that might otherwise elude our gaze. At times, the conversation as we clean has revolved around how often mirrors must be cleaned for telescopes, how different cultures create similar images for stars, moons, and suns, and how a simple act of cleaning invigorates the whole exhibit. Observatory staff usually contacts us the day after cleaning to let us know how great the exhibit looks. It might also be that FOTO’s cleaning contribution relieves the staff from having to figure out how to write a manual for this unusual exhibit’s maintenance.
For we who have a blast cleaning the jewelry, it’s a reminder to KEEP LOOKING UP and revel in the wonder of the cosmos; even human-made adornments remind us of an infinite and beautiful universe.
Plutonic Relationships: How Cool is Pluto?
by Janet Marott, FOTO Member
On August 31, 2015, Friends Of The Observatory (FOTO) and the South Coast Botanic Garden Foundation established a wonderful relationship – in this case Plutonic!
The two organizations cooperated to produce a gala evening of good food, good wine, and star gazing in a magical garden setting, all celebrating the star of the evening, Pluto. All the decorations were orange in his honor.
The evening started with wine and hors d’oeuvres and observation of the Sun as it started to set. Solar telescopes were provided by volunteers from the Los Angeles Astronomical Society (LAAS) and The Planetary Society.
But Sol, however majestic, was not the point of the evening. The guests were there to hear Dr. E.C. Krupp, Director of Griffith Observatory, talk about Pluto – the ancient god, the Disney character, and the dwarf planet whose pictures had just started to arrive from the New Horizons spacecraft. Dr. Krupp wove a wonderful tale of Pluto’s discovery, the mythology around the god, and the place that Pluto in all its forms has in popular culture. He also made sure that we all learned how to pronounce the name of Pluto’s largest Moon, Charon.
After the lecture, guests moved back to the lawn to view celestial objects. The volunteers from the LAAS and The Planetary Society brought a wide variety of instruments and were eager to make the star party the high point of the evening. Though it is in the city, South Coast Botanic Garden (SCBG) has 85 acres so the site was reasonably dark. Saturn cooperated by being visible and putting on a show of his rings.
Many of the FOTO guests were from the South Bay and were most appreciative of being able to connect to Griffith Observatory without risking the often difficult drive up the 110 Freeway. The SCBG guests were amazed at what they could see looking up into the sky instead of down at the Earth.
To finish the evening, the Moon rose up over the mountains big and beautiful – and orange!
FOTO’s motto is “Inspiring the future, one imagination at a time,” and we certainly succeeded in doing that – the most frequent comment that was heard from many of the departing guests was “I have never seen Saturn’s rings before – amazing!”
In every way, it was a magical evening of plants and planets.